How do the great champions end up, match after match, tournament after tournament, season after season, at or near the top of the rankings? What drives them to constantly challenge themselves, to constantly put themselves out there for the whole world to critique them? And, similarly, what drives a club player to practice day in and day out, even if they will never be rewarded in the same way as a pro?
From a mental perspective, the key to success can be separated into two different parts: motivation and goal-setting. Motivation is a complicated thing, and manifests differently for different people. For many, the love and passion for tennis is what drives them. They want to be the best players they possibly can be, and will not rest until they have fulfilled their potential. This passion for the sport that drives us is an example of intrinsic motivation, or motivation that comes from within. Intrinsic motivation is nourished by success on the court and a feeling of progress is one’s game.
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Think about Roger Federer, who at 37 is breaking records every year and upstaging the youngsters who are supposed to supplant him. Think about Rafael Nadal who, despite his never-ending list of injuries, returns to the court again and again in search of even more success. Novak Djokovic, too, recently went through almost a year of injuries and poor form before finally making a successful comeback at Wimbledon. These athletes continue to play and win titles despite all the headwinds making things ever more difficult for them. And despite the fact that they have accomplished and earned more than enough to call it a career. What drives them?
We have already talked about motivation, but now we must talk about goal-setting, which is closely linked to motivation. The setting of new goals, of creating new challenges, can be incredibly energizing for tennis players of any level. Properly setting goals creates a renewed enthusiasm for even the most accomplished and jaded professional, and is key in career longevity. The desire to win, to lift one more trophy, allows you to make sense of the enormous effort that you put into your game. All of the sacrifices, fatigue and criticism fades away when you finally achieve what you set out to do.
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These techniques are, of course, not just for professionals. We as normal club players can also make use of motivation and goal-setting to improve ourselves. It is important to remember that not everybody is driven by the same things, so when formulating motivation and goals, you need to first explore which goals would actually get you excited. Once you are able to do that and put into words what you want to accomplish, and how will accomplish it, you will experience a complete shift in your attitude towards the game. You will feel more energized and excited at the prospect of things that didn’t necessarily excite you before, such as long training sessions and long workouts in the gym.